Last month, in the release of the Pew Research Center’s study of U.S. Jews, a bleak picture was painted of what the American Jewish community will look like by the end of this generation. On the other hand, there were highly optimistic numbers in certain pockets of our faith as well, with astonishing growth in Torah learning and other similar areas.
The tension between these two unprecedented extremes places a grave importance on our Jewish youth. We find ourselves at a very auspicious time in our nation’s history, standing on the cusp of an accelerated decline or an exponential boom. It is Jewish teenagers, those growing into positions of influence and gaining a tangible edification from parents and educators, who are the ones who will realize this “decline” or “boom” in the near future. For those passionate about preserving our tradition, the debate has naturally shifted toward how best to inform our teenage youth, and to which areas is it most crucial for them to be connected.
Well before the Pew study was conceptualized, NCSY had been addressing the challenge of inspiring the Jewish future. Entering our 52nd year in Baltimore, NCSY has been facing Jewish assimilation head on, adapting our methodology throughout the years to reflect a changing Jewish landscape.
One issue we have focused on, which we consider critical to the Jewish future, is ensuring a strong connection with the State of Israel. The period after World War II and then Israel’s War of Independence inculcated the nation with a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to rebuild. In the decades immediately following the state’s founding, we built the country on a passion for Zionism.
However, as we approach Israel’s 66th birthday, these sensitivities are largely lost on today’s youth. We have seen that the only way to foster such a strong, personal identification with our homeland requires proactive and strategic involvement. Organizations, such as the Baltimore Israel Coalition, are dedicated to the cause, by offering community events designed to engage our youth.
Ultimately, bringing teens to the land of Israel and allowing them to experience her beauty and unique passion in person is ideal. NCSY brought nearly 1,000 Jewish teens to Israel this past summer. Building off the BIC’s tireless efforts in local programming, this number includes almost 100 local teens, indicating that a large portion of NCSY’s tremendous impact is being made right here in our backyard.
NCSY capitalizes on these impactful trips by making Israel a priority in all its programming. This weekend’s Regional Convention’s theme centers on our individual connection to the land, and we are frequently working with AIPAC to demonstrate the importance of Israeli-American relations and our individual power to influence them.
Instead of being deterred by startling statistics put out by scientific surveys, the BIC and NCSY are targeting teenagers in this upcoming year to proactively deal with the current crisis. Join us as we endeavor to show our teens that our country is truly the Jewish homeland and as we nurture deep connections with that which we hold so dear.
Moshe Heideman is Baltimore City director of NCSY — Atlantic Seaboard. His organization is a member of the Baltimore Israel Coalition. Learn more at baltimoreisrael.org.